Editor’s note: Kris Marsh is on the faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is on Facebook and on Twitter @drkrismarsh.
By Kris Marsh, Special to CNN
(CNN) - While sharing coffee one day with a colleague and friend, William “Sandy” Darity Jr., we coined a new, emerging group of single and living-alone (SALA) households in the black middle class: the “Love Jones Cohort.” Personal experiences as a member of the Love Jones Cohort help shape, inform and drive my research on this emerging group within the black middle class.
Historically, the quintessential black middle class consisted of a married couple with 2.5 children, a dog, and “Black Picket Fences” - in reference to the book written on the black middle class by Mary Pattillo-McCoy.
Where is the black middle class now, you ask? We are right here, but look demographically different than we did years ago.
My research clearly shows a compositional shift in the black middle class, away from married couples to single and living-alone households. Dovetailing with my research, we need to shift the way we talk and think about single, black professionals – both men and women, although women dominate the category.
The Love Jones Cohort nomenclature is based on the shift in the media portrayal of the black middle class, away from the Huxtables in “The Cosby Show” to the young, single, educated and black professionals in the film “Love Jones”, the show “Living Single” and more recently on VH1’s hit, “Single Ladies.”
One question I often get when I talk about my research: How dramatic is the shift and presence of the Love Jones Cohort in the larger black middle class?
In 2000, 11% of black middle class households in the 25 to 54 range were Love Jones Cohort, up from 5% in 1980 – the group more than doubled its share of the black middle class, from 1980 to 2000. Additionally, the Love Jones Cohort made up the second-largest segment of the black middle class, behind married couples with children.
Meanwhile, married-couple households with children decreased their share of the black middle class. In fact, by 2000, they lost their status as the majority household type in the black middle class - 43% of black middle class households were married couples with children, down from 60% in 1980. If present trends persist, the Love Jones Cohort is on track to become the largest household type within the black middle class.
Given the presence of the Love Jones Cohort, what does this mean for the broader black middle class and black America overall? How will our discussions change regarding this group, and how should it?
I prefer these questions so much more than the omnipresent discussion of what is wrong with the single, black professional and why they are not marrying. I am growing weary of hearing about our lack of marriage and the barrage of emails, tweets, Facebook posts and coffee-shop discussions that highlight our “deficit.” Enough is enough! I do not want to read another book that suggest that black women need to marry - non-black men, that is - for the good of the larger black community in such works as “Is Marriage for White People?”
What I do want to talk about are the Love Jones Cohort’s positive contributions.
Let us talk about how the growth of the Love Jones Cohort helped to stabilize and even increase the overall proportion of those in the black middle class.
Or we can discuss how, if it were not for the emergence of the Love Jones Cohort, the disparity between the black middle class and the larger middle class would be even more pronounced.
We can even talk about how the presence of the Love Jones Cohort should inspire rethinking about how the black middle class is conceptualized, defined and studied, both now and in the future.
We also need to question the long-term consequences this middle class shift will have on black America. This shift challenges the neo-conservative view of marriage as an anti-poverty strategy and provides support for blacks’ ability to attain and maintain higher socioeconomic status without having to marry. The black church must be sensitive to shifting demographics and prepared to adjust, if necessary.
What about the transfer of wealth? Simply put, the Love Jones Cohort is present and growing. We are unmarried and childless. So the salient issue for now is how we will transfer our wealth to the next generation. We can look at the issue as a glass half-full or half-empty – the glass half-full would be the understanding that the we can spread our wealth in innovate ways that we choose, while the glass half-empty is fretting about why we do not have our own spouse, partner or child to share our wealth with.
The beauty of Love Jones Cohort and these types of positive discussions is that they allow us, as a group, to think more critically about this notion of the intergenerational transference of wealth - glass half-full thinking. We can engage in poignant dialog about finding innovative ways to transfer our wealth in the absence of biological children. What, if anything, prevents us from bequeathing our wealth to nieces, nephews, god-children so that they may reap the rewards of our labor? I, personally, would much rather sit in a coffee shop discussing the future of my cohort’s bestowing power and options - or an entire discourse on the need for us to have a collective identity - in lieu of how to get and keep a man.
I propose we embrace the reality of a changing black middle class and start taking a serious look at how the Love Jones Cohort is changing the face of black America, changing how we think about middle class, and changing our understanding of being black in America.